AH, SPRING is here and its warm breezes have brought with them a hint of
honesty (to which some people are as allergic as others are to pollen).
Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted to reporters that the
mobile bioweapons trailers that he discussed at length in his U.N.
presentation (with "artist's renderings") might not exist. Of the
intelligence on which his charge was based, Powell now says: "It appears
not to be the case that it was that solid."
Powell acknowledged that the so-called "Winnebagos of death" (I think I've
spotted a few of these barreling down I-95 in search of the nearest RV park)
constituted his "most dramatic" accusation before the United Nations. They
also were the only piece of evidence he presented that pointed to ongoing
WMD production by Saddam Hussein.
Like a lot of other bad Iraq intel, the reports about the trailers emanated
from defectors tied to Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress, who
were pocketing U.S. taxpayer dollars for the privilege of misleading our
leaders-and, through them, us.
We should not be too quick to blame our intelligence establishment, though.
Since the mid-1990s, the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and State
Department had dismissed the bulk of the INC's claims as unverifiable at
best and bogus at worst.
But then the Sept. 11 attacks occurred, and certain people saw a chance to
turn a crisis into an opportunity. Specifically, neoconservative ideologues
inside the administration-Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense
Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, and
others-could taste their dream of invading Iraq, but the existing
intelligence didn't lend much support for a Mesopotamian adventure.
Enter the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans. Conceived by Wolfowitz, the
office grew out of the Near East South Asia directorate's Iraq desk and was
officially launched in the summer of 2002-just as the administration was
readying its big sales pitch for war.
The OSP's director, Abram Shulsky, is a disciple of political philosopher
Leo Strauss (as is Wolfowitz). Straussians believe, among other things, that
an enlightened elite sometimes has to tell a "noble lie" to bring the masses
on board for something they otherwise wouldn't back (this is sort of a
perverted take on Plato).
Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Karen Kwiatkowski got an inside look at how the
OSP put Straussian principles into practice. She worked in the Pentagon's
NESA directorate during the buildup to the war, and saw how the OSP went
about twisting intelligence and making sure everyone remained "on message"
"The most important thing OSP did was, they provided a legitimate outlet for
Ahmed Chalabi," Kwiatkowski told me in an interview near her home in
Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.
She said the OSP funneled defectors' dubious reports through the
intelligence community a second time in an effort to "corroborate" their
earlier accounts. Analysts sometimes didn't realize they were seeing the
same flimsy intelligence passing through the system again; instead, they
thought they were getting similar information from different sources. Thus
did the OSP help to "multisource" suspect claims.
Kwiatkowski said that at the same time, the OSP was channeling its
"intelligence" up the food chain to high-level civilians in the Pentagon and
vice president's office. White House speechwriters also must have received
some of the OSP's product, she said.
The office made sure its propaganda filtered upward by disseminating talking
points on Iraq that NESA desk officers were to regurgitate verbatim in
materials prepared for upper-level defense officials and people outside the
Pentagon, Kwiatkowski said. Some of the talking points were patently
false-e.g., that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met with Iraqi intelligence
agents in Prague-but some contained kernels of truth.
For instance, the talking point about Saddam using chemical weapons on his
own people was indisputably true, but it failed to mention that he did this
in the 1980s, that he had shown no recent inclination to use poison gas, and
that whatever might have been left of his chemical-weapons stockpile had
probably lost its potency and consequently was little more than sludge.
But, Kwiatkowski said, the OSP wasn't interested in producing sound
intelligence; it was bent on persuading America of the need for a war.
If that's true, the obvious question arises: When did it become the job of
Pentagon bureaucrats to sell a war to the American people?
Some neoconservative cheerleaders for the imperialist undertaking in Iraq
have-surprise, surprise-smeared Kwiatkowski. Washington Post columnist
George Will recently put words in her mouth to make her appear to be an
anti-Semite. (Neoconmen such as Will have come up with a neat rhetorical
trick: They contend that when critics use the term "neoconservative," it's
really a code word for "Jew"; hence, anyone who bashes neoconservatives is
But Kwiatkowski's determination to inform Americans about the propaganda
unit inside the Pentagon serves as a heroic example-one that should be
followed by members of the panel appointed by Bush to look into supposed
prewar intelligence failures. If they have any guts, commission members will
insist on examining how the OSP helped validate what almost all credible
intelligence analysts believed was suspect information.
We must not shrink from holding the neoconservative architects of this war
accountable for their deceptions. As Kwiatkowski argues, it's one thing to
fudge data when you're debating some domestic issue such as the economy or
Medicare. "You're not going to kill hundreds and thousands of people when
you do that," she says. "But in the Pentagon, when we lie about stuff,
that's what happens."
Now there's something for you to think about while you're watching the
television footage coming out of Iraq these days.
RICK MERCIER is a writer and editor for The Free Lance-Star. He can be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2004, The Free Lance-Star Publishing Co